VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Few people have considered how communities
and nations actually tolerate and encourage human trafficking, particularly as
it relates to prostitution, Pope Francis said.
Modern forms of slavery "are far more widespread than
previously imagined, even -- to our scandal and shame -- within the most
prosperous of our societies," the pope said Feb. 9 during a meeting with
an international group of law enforcement and church workers.
"God's cry to Cain, found in the first pages of the
Bible -- 'Where is your brother?' -- challenges us to examine seriously the
various forms of complicity by which society tolerates, and encourages,
particularly with regard to the sex trade, the exploitation of vulnerable men,
women and children," the pope told the Santa Marta Group.
The Santa Marta Group is an anti-trafficking initiative organized
by the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales to bring together
representatives of bishops' conferences and top national and international
law enforcement officials to promote cooperation, particularly in identifying
victims of trafficking and caring for them once they are rescued.
British Cardinal Vincent Nichols of Westminster, introducing
the group to the pope, described human trafficking as "the darkest face of
The cardinal told reporters later there are more than
42 million people in slavery today.
Cressida Dick, commissioner of the London Metropolitan
Police, told Catholic News Service she "absolutely" agrees with Pope
Francis that citizens are encouraging, or at least tolerating, human
trafficking by tolerating prostitution. She said her department has "well
over 20 current, live operations targeting human trafficking. A large number of
those relate to the sex trade."
The victims are mostly women and girls, "and the people
paying them for their services are often oblivious to the history of how
somebody ended up in that position," the commissioner said.
During the meeting at the Vatican Feb. 8-9, representatives
of more than 30 countries shared what their governments and their Catholic
communities are doing to prevent trafficking, rescue and assist victims and
William Canny, executive director of the U.S. bishops'
Migration and Refugee Services, told the Santa Marta Group that the church in
the United States has been working to counter trafficking for some 20 years,
with activities ranging from grass-roots advocacy to specialized assistance to
victims of "this heinous crime."
Many diocesan Catholic Charities offices work directly with
the Department of Homeland Security's investigative unit to ensure immediate
assistance to those rescued from traffickers, he said. The Catholic Health Association
has developed tools to help health care workers recognize possible victims of
trafficking when they come to an emergency room, hospital or rural health
While Catholic agencies provide emergency assistance,
shelter and support to rescued victims of trafficking, Canny said, the bishops'
conference is now looking at how to promote "long-term restoration for
"The program will prepare victims of trafficking,
whether U.S. citizens or foreign nationals, to enter employment through individual
coaching, skill attainment" and education in preparing resumes and getting
ready for job interviews, Canny said. "Victims of forced labor and
commercial sexual exploitation deserve the chance to move beyond basic survival
by achieving dignified employment and self-sufficiency."
Callista Gingrich, the U.S. ambassador to the Holy See, told
the group the U.S. State Department, the Department of Homeland Security and
the FBI have been devoting increasing resources to fighting human trafficking
and have increased their partnerships with Catholic and other nongovernmental
"The traumatic experiences suffered by victims of human
trafficking are beyond comprehension," she said. "It is crucial that
law enforcement agencies develop strong and enduring partnerships with NGOs and
faith-based organizations that are on the front lines of survivor
For Pope Francis and the Vatican, an important part of
preventing trafficking is to open up more pathways to legal migration so that
the very poor or people fearing persecution do not turn to traffickers in the
Dick, the London police commissioner, said she would not
comment on the politics of immigration policy, but insisted that when rescuing
victims or taking their statements, the police must recognize that the person
is a victim first of all. "If there are other matters revealed, for
example immigration or crime, then that must be dealt with through the
appropriate authorities, but we want to be supportive of the individual in the